First a Victim of Tax Return Identity Theft, Then a 2-Year Wait for a Refund

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Getting an IP pin, however, can also take time, depending on whether you apply online, by mail or in person. (Ms. Collins’s annual report said some taxpayers might find the online process “burdensome.”) Filers may have been reluctant to participate because previously, if you had requested a pin voluntarily, you couldn’t later change your mind and opt out. But that has changed, the I.R.S. website says. If you have not been a victim of tax-related identity theft, you may now opt out of the pin program.

Melanie Lauridsen, vice president for tax policy and advocacy with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, advised working with a reputable tax preparer and having your tax information well organized so you can file early in the season, reducing the odds that a fraudulent return will be filed first. “Give it to the preparer in a timely manner,” she said.

Other steps, including putting a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report, can also help protect sensitive information that can be used in identity theft.

Data breaches or leaks, which have become numbingly common, can expose sensitive information to identity criminals. In 2023, there were 3,205 publicly reported data compromises — at health care providers, cable and cellphone companies, mortgage lenders, and other businesses — affecting more than 353 million people, a 78 percent increase from 2022, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit group that tracks breaches and assists victims. “They are the fuel for fraud,” said Eva Velasquez, the group’s chief executive.

In some cases, criminal networks are behind the data compromises. In a case filed in Texas last year, the federal authorities charged seven people with fraudulently registering with the I.R.S. as taxpayer representatives and obtaining personal information on filers, which they then used to submit hundreds of fraudulent tax returns and obtain illegal refunds. All seven have pleaded guilty to the charges.



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